Sprawling resorts with swim-up bars may be the default for many when it comes to Mexican retreats, but outside the hotel-lined sands of the country’s most popular beaches lie a growing number of eco-lodges intent on scaling back the trendy amenities in favor of being friendly to Earth. These green getaways are ideal winter retreats, when cool evening breezes become nature’s air conditioner, and animal sightings are at their greatest.
Located just outside the drowsy surf town of Todos Santos north of Cabo San Lucas on the Baja peninsula, the hacienda that houses Villa Santa Cruz’s four suites appears as though it has been there for centuries. At the entrance, a grand atrium centers on a reclaimed cantera stone fountain, while cozy rooms brim with recycled details like antique wooden doors from San Miguel de Allende and mosaic floor tiles from La Paz. The 20-acre estate operates on its own solar power and uses gas lamps to light the villa at night. Home-style meals are prepared with local seafood and fresh vegetables from the organic garden. Guests are welcome to join a cooking lesson in the villas kitchen or a fishing outing along the estate’s coastline. From November to April, humpback whales pass nearby shores on their annual migration. Catch a glimpse of their journey from the villa’s rooftop terrace or at nearby La Pastora, the local surfers’ favorite beach.
Set within the Chamela-Cuixmala Biosphere Reserve some 100 miles south of Puerto Vallarta lies Cuixmala, a combination eco-resort, coconut plantation, animal sanctuary, and working farm. The 25,000-acre preserve, whose name means “the soul’s resting place,” is home to sea turtles, zebras, black-buck antelope, and rare species like the Mexican bearded lizard. Between the preserve’s lagoon and its main beach are five villas and nine casitas decorated with vibrant woven ruugs and Oaxacan fabrics made by local artisans. Guided and independent hikes explore the resort’s organic farm and livestock (supplying 90 percent of the resort’s food) and track its native bird population (made up of 270 species). Guests can also join the Cuixmala Ecological Foundation in protecting baby sea turtles by collecting newly laid eggs for incubation and releasing hatchlings back to sea.
Situated on a protected cove along the Pacific Ocean’s Banderas Bay south of Puerto Vallarta, the secluded Majahuitas Resort (named after a yellow hibiscus-like flower that grows there) is approachable only via panga, or a small fisherman’s boat. The eight-casita resort, on communal property that belongs to the indigenous Chacala community, is largely solar-powered, relying on candles to illuminate the night, and shunning modern technology with TV-free rooms. Guests can join guided hikes through the jungle to the Quimixto waterfall or catch a panga to the tiny fishing village of Yelapa, lined with golden beaches and cafes. But the real culinary attraction remains at Majahuitas’s restaurant, where hundreds of votive candles light the tables, and nightly three-course meals offering tuna fish empanadas and coconut mango shrimp are prepared with bounty from the resorts garden and daily catches from village fishermen.
The valleys and colossal boulders surrounding Endemico sit amid a little-known wine country in the Valle de Guadalupe of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. Opened in July, the 40-acre site offers 20 cubelike cabins perched atop stilts. Inside, the decor is minimal, though details like outdoor clay fireplaces from nearby Tecate are unmistakably Mexican. Guests can explore the estate’s vineyards, wine-production facility, and slow-food restaurant or find respite from the desert heat in a pool etched into a cliff above the cabins. At night, make time for serious stargazing. Wherever visitors roam, however, they are asked to tread lightly: Cars are forbidden in certain areas, and guests must rely on staff members driving all-terrain vehicles to navigate the rugged landscape.